As time goes by, it's easy to think of Bill Parcells as the Don Corleone of the NFL. Even through the end of his tenure in Miami (which was the football equivalent of the Don playing in the garden with his grandson), Parcells has seemed like the guy whose ring you'd need to kiss when it comes to football acumen. The winner of two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, Parcells also turned around the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, and the Miami Dolphins as a coach and personnel executive. His attention to detail and focus on fundamentals transcends eras.
In addition, Parcells has perhaps the best and biggest coaching tree this side of Bill Walsh. And for the second time in four seasons, two of his former assistants — Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin — are facing off in a Super Bowl of their own. The now-retired Parcells, who works for ESPN as an analyst, can stand back as a proud father of sorts and see what his charges have done.
Coughlin served as Parcells' receivers coach from 1998 through 1990. Parcells called Coughlin a "coach's coach" when talking to the New York Daily News on Friday, and his praise expanded when he spoke to ESPN's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic a few days ago.
"Tom kind of took the same route I did as a coach, starting in a very, very small Division III school. He was mowing the grass and lining the fields, and doing all the tasks that a coach in one of those situations has to do. So he came up the hard way and people who do that learn the ropes. Tom, by his experience, starting off at a very low level as a coach -- I did the same things at Hastings College in Nebraska -- makes you appreciate it when things change for the better."
Coughlin actually got his start as a head coach at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which is fabulous.
Parcells' relationship with Belichick goes back even further and is a bit more complicated — the two men worked together as assistant for the Giants in 1981 and 1982, and Belichick became the Tuna's defensive coordinator in 1985, two years after Parcells became the main man. They worked together again in 1996, when Belichick was Parcells' assistant head coach in New England, and the two men moved back to the Meadowlands in 1997, when Parcells' took the Jets' job. Belichick was considered to be the heir to Parcells' job there, but he pulled out at the last minute and accepted Robert Kraft's offer to rebuild the Pats back into a Super Bowl team.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Belichick picked up three Super Bowl titles from 2001 through 2004 and lost to Coughlin's Giants at the end of the 2007 season in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. With the rematch set, Parcells also reflected on Belichick's abilities:
"You know Bill Belichick was the son of a coach, I knew his father [Steve] very well. He came up [with] football all his life … I think Bill was taught by his dad on what was necessary."
Parcells also said that it's a mistake to file the two coaches away as similar in personality or approach — it's just that the results are equally impressive in recent years.
"I think they do have an awful lot in common; I think their persona is just a little different on the part of each of them. Both of them were straight football guys, intense competitors, very thorough, quite intense in their preparations, and certainly both of them would get the information to the players very, very well.
By the way, that Parcells coaching tree spans far beyond Belichick and Coughlin. Sean Payton of the Saints, who has his own Super Bowl title, got his NFL doctorate as Parcells' assistant head coach and quarterback guru in Dallas. Eric Mangini comes from that tree, as does Tony Sparano, as does Romeo Crennel, who just replaced Todd Haley (another Parcells acolyte) in Kansas City. Add Mike Nolan, Charlie Weis, Al Groh, Ray Handley, and Chris Palmer to the list, and you've got quite the roster of men who have survived and thrived under Parcells' laser glare and exacting standards.
But of those who learned under Parcells, none are as successful as the two coaches who will face off again in Super Bowl XLVI.